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May 31, 2007

Walnuts redux

A Walnut man took exception to Chicken Corner’s report on walnuts. Mark, from Walnut, wrote that:

I live in Walnut, evidently too far east of Boyle Heights and the western edge of the Puente Hills, so all these walnut trees must be weeds. We should probably just cut them down.

Well, I deplore the cutting down of trees, even exotics, once they’re established. Beyond that, a clarification: Michael said that the “natural habitat” of juglans californica is the Santa Monica Mountains. He didn’t say they didn’t grow anywhere else, especially if they were planted. All of this is by my own extrapolation, by the way, including my statement that they don’t go to Boyle Heights because their natural habitat stops at the LA river. Walnuts, by definition, have the types of seeds that don’t travel on the wind. Squirrels and other earthbound critters move them around.

So…my guess is that Walnut walnuts are a different variety than Echo Park walnuts. But either way, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don’t chop me down!

May 30, 2007

Memorial weekend, part II

Who really belongs in Echo Park? Nuts. Juglans Californica, aka Southern California black walnuts. This is a walnut woodland, as was so casually declared at a master plan meeting for Elysian Park a couple of years ago. But Michael O’Brien clarified the walnut matter a bit on Monday morning. Michael took the time to walk around Kite Hill and talk about weeds. A self-taught naturalist and botanist, Michael works for the Los Angeles Planning Department, where he reviews landscape plans for larger building projects.

I learned from Michael that Echo Park is ground zero (that term again!) for the Southern California black walnut, which a protected native species. And it’s really native to this location at the true tail end (or tail beginning) of the Santa Monica Mountains. Unlike the also-native elderberry tree – which can be found all over the state, Juglans Californica created itself to live in Echo Park and Mount Washington, which also is known for these trees. According to Michael, the natural range for juggy is only from Elysian Park through the Santa Monica Mountains. They piddle off in Ventura County. Across the river, Boyle Heights and Lincoln Heights are at the far western edge of the Puente Hills, and the Socal walnut doesn’t go there.

According to Michael, the trees were crowded out in the last century by eucalyptus and other exotics (the pepper tree, for example), which outcompete the little walnut for water and light. But north side of Elysian Park is a walnut stronghold – so is my yard, but that’s a different story altogether.

From Michael I learned that a lot of the plants I had been told – or imagined, maybe – were natives are not. The pepper tree, for example. I was definitely told that they were native, perhaps because – planted extensively by the Spaniards, who brought them here from Peru because peppers are lovely and shady -- they predate large-scale anglo settlements in the area. Interesting definition of native. I am sure my informant passed along the misinformation unwittingly. Michael says the mother of all our regional pepper trees lives at the Mission in San Luis Obispo.

Anyway, Michael and I walked along Park Drive and then down the Baxter steps. I pestered him with the same questions over and over. Is this one native? Where is this one from? Is this one a noxious weed? Will I be sick if I eat it? What’s a weed anyway? Who – or what -- really belongs here? He knew the names and histories of virtually everything I could point to. He also has a very good, dry sense of humor, which I am sure is why he didn't get cranky walking and walking through down stairs and through vacant lots. In any case, he didn't suddenly remember an emergency dentist's appointment he'd forgotten all about. He's originally from Kansas City.

Few of the plants we passed, even along the properties flanking Baxter steps, which are bare except for the weeds, were from the region. Most came from Africa, South America and, especially, the Mediterranean.

In this season’s drought, Michael sees a boon, because so much of the mustard plants didn’t come up. As a parks volunteer, he said, he was delighted! Because they grow first and crowd out all of the native wildflowers. So, where I saw pretty carpets of yellow was actually a bully glorying in domination. Well, this season I won’t have to be conflicted in the new knowledge because there isn’t any mustard on these hills. In any case, to quote Michael, “It’s hard to talk about negative effects [of exotic species] because it’s a value judgment.” He even had nice things to say about a lot of the exotics and seemed enthusiastic about the exotic trees arboretum in Elysian Park.

“So, Michael, what’s the definition of a weed?”
“A weed is any plant that is growing where it shouldn’t.”
“Well, if it’s growing where it shouldn’t (which means it has found a place where it can thrive) doesn’t that mean it’s growing where it should?”
Full circle: We were back to the value judgments. We started talking about the U.S. Army instead.

May 29, 2007

Memorial weekend notebook

There were two car clubs in the park Sunday, parked smack center in the memorial day weekend. They were smaller clubs; the bigger of the two was about fifteen cars, though the number changed as people drove away or arrived. Before we arrived, I saw a pair of powder-sparkly blue vintage cars driving away down Scott Avenue. The fancy cars parked along Academy on the west side of Stadium Way were Chevy Impalas of different decades. Candy-colored. One of the car guys said candy color clubs are on their way out. At least for now. It’s a matter of technology. The cars are painted with lacquer paint, which are being replaced with water-based paints, as required by new environmental laws. A man named Fernando told Cindy Bennett, who visited the park with Madeleine, my daughter, and me, that the candy colors are not available in environmentally improved paints.

A couple of families had brought tents and relaxed while their cars were admired. Others sat in the shade of huge ash trees, while a roving mariachi band played requests at a few dollars per song.

One of the Impalas was a light, dusty gold-silver with white walls and hydraulics and an airbrushed scene on the trunk, the airbrushing in shades of black and gray – a bad ass vision of heaven. In the center: a cholo with wings floating in the clouds and holding a very large semi-automatic firearm in two hands. He was surrounded by a curling ribbon with names: Mom, Dad, Julian, Lilliana…. Beneath him, in the foreground, was scenes of urban LA: a grffiti-covered Metrolink train, an alleyway with phone wires and small buildings. A large skull with a clown nose and clown accordion collar. And a bit higher in the picture was a gangster-looking guy with a hat and a revolver.

None of the other cars had pictures. Just super-fine leather in different colors, TVs installed near the dashboard, pin-striping and, always, the paint job.

Across the street, it was barbecues and parties, a lively scene. There even was a church event. The Church of Fallen Fruit had a banner sign in English and Korean. There was a minister who used a music stand as a pulpit, preaching to a congregation on folding chairs. About twenty congregants, all of them Asian paid worship amid the volleyball parties and grilling burgers.

May 24, 2007

Ladies lunch at the Academy

Gunfire from the practice range at the Police Academy is quite a bit louder on campus than half a mile away on the Elysian Park western trail. Otherwise the Academy is busy but tranquil. We're here for the aforementioned ladies lunch, Cindy Bennett, my daughter, Madeleine, and I. It's a classic old campus, with stone gates, classy-looking swimming pool and in-house diner, which toward the end of lunchtime is packed with cops of all stripes, a few lawyers and a few civilians, like us. We just want lunch in a neighborhood place we never see, except in passing, driving to the 110 on Academy Road. We pass the Quick Draw ATM, walk around the side of the building. The restaurant has three horseshoe counters and a long row of booths. On the backs of the counter seats there are little metal clips for hanging up your hat. I don't see any hats, either on the seat backs or on anyone's head, though of course the room is full of gear, mostly hanging on hips. Cool vintage photos in frames hang on the walls. The waitress is very friendly, brings crayons and paper and a free lemonade for my daughter, tells me chicken tenders are available for kids, though they're not on the menu. In the booth next to ours a rock-and-roll-looking middle-aged guy with long dyed hair sits with three cops. I do a double take and then turn my attention toward my own table. We place our orders and talk about art, skin care, blogging and Madeleine's vocabulary. After a while it seems we've been waiting quite a long time. People are leaving the diner. The din is low enough that now we can hear the K-Earth 101 oldies songs over the restaurant P.A. We wait through "Long Tall Woman," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and "Black Magic Woman." Then the waitress appears with the first of a string of apologies. She says they're making it now. The booth behind us rises and I see that rock-and-roll dude is wearing dark cop-looking cargo pants. Undercover. Well, not here. Finally our lunch arrives, and it's on the house. It's good, too.

May 21, 2007


Took a dog walk with Rosie (the dog) through the western trail in Elysian Park this morning, small bits of Lavender Diamond's wonderful new CD playing in my head. Each time I walk the trail this season I am confronted with the change -- mustard weed, which usually is thick, dominating the hillsides and the eye with millions of blossoms, standing as high as six feet and so dense the ground seems far away, simply isn't there this year. The drought has reduced it to scrappy patches here and there, desperate little things about two feet high and standing alone. Every now and then, in the distance, there's a patch of plants and the familiar soft carpet of yellow. Natives-advocates say don't cry over the lost mustard -- it's an exotic invader. As are the eucalyptus trees and so much else that comprises the familiar landscape of Elysian Park. What isn't so familiar is the bare hillsides. The sudden views through trees from one section of park to another, to the street. The paths of desire that used to cut through the mustard are gone because -- now that you can see the ground -- people cut through anywhere. Now I see women alone walking hillsides where they would have been insane to venture. With less greenery the sounds of traffic and gunfire from the police academy over the hill near Dodger Stadium are louder, too.

I am awed by the discipline and shape of Becky Stark's compositions and voice -- not to mention heart -- in her most recent Lavender Diamond CD. Becky is a semi-regular at Echo Park coffee houses Chango and the Downbeat. She has a soft, spirited demeanor but I wouldn't have guessed at the muscle in songs like "Like an Arrow." I also particularly like the song "My Shadow Is a Monday" and "When You Wake For Certain."

I wish I could say I had bought Lavender Diamond's latest at Sea Level records, which is closing. It seems right that Echo Park artists' work be available for purchase in Echo Park. Every neighborhood should have a general-interest book store and independent record store. When Sea Level closes we won't have either. Which is not to say storefront Echo park has vanished. On Sunset, we still have Neuroticos Anonymos as well as escritoris publicos, travel agencies, tax-preparation services, a new laundromat where Payless Shoes used to be, a tortilleria, a panaderia, clothing stores, new and used appliances, a pawn shop and lots of food and liquor.

*Update: A second Elysian Park dog walk this evening @ 7:30pm. All of the mustard is gone. Mowed down for fire clearance. A muted sunset this evening and a half moon.

High riders/Dodgers face-to-face

White car

Photo: "Hydraulics" by Cindy Bennett, May 20, 2007.

Sunday afternoon a car club gathered on Stadium Way beneath the Canary Island palms, a traditional spot for fancy auto display. (A couple more photos on next "page," after "continue.")


Then, Monday...

As part of the McCourt Dodgers' commitment to Echo Park relations, VP Howard Sunkin and Noel Pallais took time this morning to grab a quick cup of coffee and talk about Chicken Corner and...the Dodgers. Went to the Rodeo Grill on Sunset after finding the pair looking a bit restless outside of Masa, our original meet, which was closed.

Howard said the organization is committed to "three equally guiding principles": playing baseball, offering an exceptional fan experience AND neighbor-relations. And I had thought they wanted to pave Elysian Park and turn it into a parking lot! Not so. Much of what Howard and Noel said sounded good (of course), and Chicken Corner ate some of it up: with the neighborhood council, the Dodgers have formed a task force to figure out ways to improve transportation to and from the stadium; there are 16 cops assigned to Scott Ave. on nights when the gate is open -- a good number. A genuine commitment to providing shuttles certainly would be a wholesome guiding principle. Here's to hoping it gets better all the time.

As for fire: Howard said that on the advice of the fire department, the fireworks were modified -- the "fallout" (I guess that's the display part) made narrower -- at the Dodgers' most recent pyrotechnics show.


Blue car

Photo: "Chevrolet" by Cindy Bennett, May 20, 2007.


Photo: "Givin It Up" by Cindy Bennett, May 20, 2007.

May 18, 2007

Morton Ave. takes message cross town

Fancy new stone gates on Morton Ave.: This morning I drove past the three-building complex at the intersection of Academy, the ones that until recently were light blue and now are a muted tan. In the past 12 years, they have always been well-maintained: well-landscaped and quiet looking. The new stone gates look nice, but they speak their owners' not-nice intentions. I don't know when they went up -- I drive past the gates all of the time but never noticed until today when I was on the lookout for changes after reading Jessica Garrison's LA Times story that called Echo Park "ground zero for the gentrification sweeping Los Angeles." (Actually, I'm not sure exactly what "ground zero" means in this context, but it resonates nonetheless as a sort of gateway into the discussion, so I'll take it.)

The Times story reported tenants of the complex took a rented school bus to UCLA where they confronted their landlord, Eric Sussman, while he taught a class on real estate to business students. They gave Sussman a piggy bank -- trophy for winning "Greediest Landlord of the Year" distinction -- and put coins in it, in honor of the very un-cute fact that Sussman and partners bought the buildings about a year ago and then served the section 8 tenants with eviction notices. Not because they were bad neighbors or welchers but because their units could be rented to higher bidders. The tenants, meanwhile, have sued. Curbed LA and UCLA's Daily Bruin online reported the protest yesterday.

Preseumably in support of the tenants, Eric Garcetti told the Times reporter:

Echo Park is hanging on to being one of the last remaining mixed-income communities in Los Angeles.

As far as ground zero goes the practice of kicking lower-income residents out of rentals is not new news in Echo Park. It even is happening down the street in a different complex close to the Morton Ave. buildings, where some upstanding hipster types I know (who have not given permission to publicize details of their situation, on advice of legal counsel) are fighting their landlord's efforts to kick them out because they want richer tenants. (I'll also note that some of their landlord's tactics are extra-legal: minor harrassment in the form of tearing out landscaping and replacing it with nothing, refusal to make repairs -- it's all in the slumlording-for-dummies handbook).

For further reading, I recommend Dave Zanhniser's LA Weekly article on gentrification. Also, Nancy Cleeland did a piece on the purple building next to Chango. That Delta Ave. building still remains shuttered more than a year after residents were turned out.

Our moment of sarcasm: Sussman summed up the situation to his students with this brilliant gem -- "Being a landlord is very political these days." So maybe he should run for office.

May 15, 2007

Campaign goes minimal

Woody Allen and Hebrew are gone. Big girl trying to look like a child -- and succeeding -- has vanished, too.

Drove past Sunset and Alvarado and didn't see any American Apparel billboards at all in their usual places -- facing Alvarado back to back, one looking north-ish, the other south. "Advertise here" and a phone number reigns over white space for the moment, though Curbed LA reported yesterday that American Apparel has signed a four-year lease for our eyeballs at this intersection.

While I'm pondering American Apparel's advertising follies, it's good to know I have a special place to sit and rest, psychically speaking. In February, I missed the Abandoned Couches post in which Abandoned dedicated a couch to me in response to my complaint that their objects of reverence weren't photographed at optimal distance. I came across the post in April. A lovely surprise. Little did I know that I would need my couch so badly in May, when there is so much to ponder, like fire, morals, real estate, advertising, chickens, the environment and art.

Dodger Dogs

In Chicken Corner's never-ending quest to improve the Dodgers, it will be noted that KPCC's Larry Mantle discussed the Dodger Dogs scandal this morning -- involving accusations of mistreatment of pigs by the hot dog suppliers. Are Dodger Dog eaters unwitting consumers of cruelty?

I've heard the Doger veggie Dogs are not just respectable and "cruelty-free" but tasty, too.

L.A. Times had a news item on the hot dog affair this morning in the California section, print edition.

May 11, 2007

Images of EP/American Apparel/Dodgers care

Well, I missed the bearded Woody Allen billboard on the street and the consequent posting on Curbed LA yesterday. American Apparel's Hebrew script above an image of Allen seems designed to confound people at the intersection of Alvarado and Sunset.

Did a lot of clucking over American Apparel's use-misuse of their media space at Downbeat corner a couple of months ago.

Fortunately, just this morning I came into a beautiful trove of Echo Park images -- a flicker pool collection of participants' favorite images, emailed to me by Victoria Bernal, who photographed the fake parade staged by the Columbus Day production yesterday.


Also in my in-box was another letter from the Dodgers, via the Echo Park Animal Alliance. It turns out to be good news. The organization is going to donate $100,000 toward healing Griffith Park. Information was not provided on which agency the money is headed to. But it's a start.

Here's the letter in its entirety:

In response to the recent fire that destroyed more than 800 acres of Griffith Park, the largest public park in Los Angeles, Frank McCourt, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, announced today a donation of $100,000 to begin the process of rebuilding the park and the spirits of local residents.
"As proud members of the Los Angeles community, we know how important Griffith Park is to area residents, the Los Angeles eco-system, the local economy, and civic pride," McCourt said. "As a gathering place for people from all walks of life, Griffith Park is part of the fabric of this community and from one civic asset to another, the Dodgers are proud to donate $100,000 as the first step toward restoring the park and all that it provides to the lives of Angelenos."
The Dodgers Dream Foundation and Dodger community outreach efforts touch hundreds of thousand of families throughout Southern California each year through a variety of programs in four key areas: Youth Sports and Recreation; Education and Literacy; Health and Health Care; and the Environment. The Dodgers support more than 3,500 organizations, donate more than 100,000 tickets to youth groups and place special emphasis on helping traditionally under-served communities.
Low Life, EP style*

While Griffith Park was smoldering, less than a mile from the Los Feliz movie theaters on Wednesday night, the hardscape of Joe D'Augustine's terrific thriller One Night With You was cool relief: the only thing to go up in smoke was cash. There's barely a tree in the feature film, because the characters in One Night are the kinds of people who pass the time in hard-urban areas where trees don't get a lot of love. The only time I can remember D'Augustine's down-and-outers keeping company with trees is at night (of course) in a scene with the Lady of the Lake statue at Echo Park Lake. And I'll add that they weren't there willingly.

Otherwise, it's all bridges, the LA River, the streets of East L.A. and Echo Park, a lot of Chinatown. The restaurant Taix is there. Downtown tunnels, City Hall. A seedy motel A rooftop. And Chango coffeehouse. One Night With You may be the best L.A. movie -- in terms of location scouting -- I've ever seen. The mobility of a lower-budget independent must have allowed D'Augustine's loving vision of a thriller-noir L.A. that feels true, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The production manager was Joe's wife, Heather.

In any case, One Night With You is fresh and well-written -- and also genuinely funny more times than I have the time to list here: In one instance a bookie's goon worries about where to put his coffee before chasing down Mark Boone Junior's character, who owes the bookie money. Hipster cult actor Michael Parks stars along with Boone, and it's one Parks showcase after another, many of them hilarious. Boone is great, too.

Another fine, if short, performance was turned in by our mail man, Andrew, who plays a mail carrier in the film. He chases Boone, who has just committed the federal crime of stealing mail, and his "Oh, shit," when Boone gets away is rendered with conviction. (He may be drawing upon his own experiences when we had a mail thief on my street; Andrew knew who it was, and he was not amused).

At a recent neighborhood party celebrating the film,* Andrew was present. So was Boone, who tended bar, and some other members of the cast. One of the neighbors, a woman who has 24 wind chimes, used to be principal guardian of one of those legendary pets of Echo Park, Roxy the dog. Roxy used to lay in the street and wasn't in a rush to get up. Everyone knew to watch out for the mid-sized brown mutt. He also did a lot of wandering, slept in a lot of homes and got fed in numerous places. Boone was one of the feeders and carers of Roxy, and I wasn't sure if our mutual neighbor was complaining or just telling when she said that Boone installed a dog door so her dog could sleep at his house. She said, "I'd be looking for him, and then it would turn out Boone's got him." She said she thought Boone himself was a down-and-outer of the type he plays in the film -- until she found out he was an actor and was in a lot of movies, like the latest Batman, Memento and Seven. Roxy was run over by a car on July 4th when people from other neighborhoods were searching for places to park to see the fireworks. The person who hit him took him to a vet, where he died.

At the party I learned (and witnessed) something new about Lucy the dog, another pet who roams: she barks at airplanes. Though not at cars or most people.

On Wednesday, One Night With You was shown as part of the Silver Lake Film Festival, right on the heels of a short film titled "Duck Man."

*No disclaimer necessary: Despite the breathless (heartfelt) praise for the movie and attendance at a party celebrating it, I had no role whatsoever in any aspect of making this film.

May 10, 2007


Dear readers, correction: Chicken Corner was in such haste to communicate yesterday that she (read I) pasted the wrong URL into what was meant to be a press release from LA Animal Services. It was a cut-and-paste error that I hope did not undermine too badly the honest efforts of the 1947 Project, which is proposing that goats clear brush. Also, I hope it did not aggravate or impede those who were seeking information from Animal Services regarding displaced wildlife.

May 9, 2007

Fireworks for Dodgers

Well, despite Griffith Park, the Dodgers organization is sticking to its guns. Senior VP Howard Sunkin emailed Echo Park community groups this evening that the ball club sees no reason to cancel Friday night's fireworks -- because "The Dodgers have been hosting fireworks displays several times each season for decades." Old habits die hard.

Says Howard:

As you are aware, the Dodgers are hosting a fireworks display after the game on Friday evening. ... Our fireworks displays are conducted by professionals and in concert with the top Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) officials, who are on-site during the displays. Coincidentally, to prepare for Fourth of July celebrations this year, 35 fire officials from throughout the state of California will be at Dodger Stadium on Friday evening for a seminar on how to conduct proper fireworks displays as they believe the Dodgers are a model for set-up, ground display, staging and clean up for these displays.

Did he say whether this golden 35 are here to teach? Hopefully they won't be on hand to study how a second Los Angeles park goes up in flames during one of the driest drought seasons on record. It would be so awful for them to learn their lesson at the expense of our park.

Full text of Howard's communication:

As you are aware, the Dodgers are hosting a fireworks display after the game on Friday evening. The Dodgers have been hosting fireworks displays several times each season for decades. Our fireworks displays are conducted by professionals and in concert with the top Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) officials, who are on-site during the displays. Coincidentally, to prepare for Fourth of July celebrations this year, 35 fire officials from throughout the state of California will be at Dodger Stadium on Friday evening for a seminar on how to conduct proper fireworks displays as they believe the Dodgers are a model for set-up, ground display, staging and clean up for these displays.
We have been communicating with the LAFD regarding our plans for Friday night and they have informed us that at this point they see no need for us to cancel. The safety of the fans at Dodger Stadium, our neighbors, the surrounding community and the firefighters themselves is of paramount concern to us. Should the LAFD request that we cancel the fireworks on Friday due to weather concerns, or any other concern for that matter, we will happily comply. Decisions on this will be made right up until the time of the show, which is scheduled to occur about 10 minutes after the game ends and lasts 15 minutes. We will continue to keep you informed of any change in plans.
Sincerely, Howard Sunkin SVP, Public Affairs Los Angeles Dodgers
Fire-related communiques*

Here are a pair of press releases that landed in Chicken Corner's feed box. Don't worry, Chicken Corner knows your eyes already are sore from smoke and maybe tears, and these press releases will not make you cry. (By the same measure, don't get all excited, they won't make you laugh, either, or maybe they won't.)

The first press release is close to my heart because it involves goats, which I love and which, I believe, should be more of a presence in Echo Park. It is the brain child of Project 1947's Kim Cooper. Though I have, honestly, often wondered why goats aren't used for brush clearance in L.A.

LOS ANGELES- Last night's firestorm made it horrifyingly clear: fire season is upon us, and it's long past time for the City of Los Angeles to wake up and clear its brush. How many more acres of Griffith Park and the Hollywood Hills need to burn, how many animals need to die, how many homes threatened or destroyed before a practical solution is found?
Kim Cooper, creator of time travel crime history blog 1947project and the successful Save the 76 Ball preservation campaign, says the answer to all those questions is ZERO. The solution is simple, traditional, economical and ecological: we need to fight fires with goats.
Managed grazing by hired herds might sound like an oddball idea, but it's been enthusiastically embraced in Northern California, which has spent the past 16 years since the deadly 1991 Berkeley-Oakland Hills Conflagration largely fire-free, in stark contrast to flame-swept SoCal.
The Fire Goats petition, launched on the morning of May 9, 2007, while the ashes from the Griffith Park fire still rained down over LA, has already been signed by such notables as Academy Award-winning screenwriter Nancy Dowd ("Coming Home") and New York underworld historian Luc Sante ("Lowlife").
The goats are hungry, always hungry. Bring 'em back!

The next press release comes via the Echo Park Animal Alliance, concerning displaced animals -- as we all know, the people survived the Griffith Park Fire, the animals...maybe not so lucky.

Los Angeles – This is an urgent message from Los Angeles Animal Services Wildlife Division: The recent fire in Griffith Park will have a major impact on wildlife in the area. It is important for LA City residents to understand that many wild animals will be displaced by the fire and may turn up in areas of the City of Los Angeles where wildlife has never been seen before. These animals will be looking for water and may be seen drinking from garden ponds, pools and other water reservoirs. These animals will be frightened and in some cases may be suffering from injuries caused by the fire. Displaced animals not injured or orphaned are to be left alone to recuperate and move on. All injured, sick and orphaned wildlife should be reported to LA Animal Services at (888) 4527381. More information on LA’s wildlife can be found at:

*Missed it earlier, but Which Way LA discussed Griffith Park wildlife today.

The view from Echo Park/Carey McWilliams

The Griffith Park fire was a big presence in Echo Park last night. First there was the new, massive cloud of purple smoke, which spread and got thicker rapidly, around 7:30 pm. Neighbors in their front yards on their cell phones. My friend, Anthony, was on the phone with another neighbor, who was across town and had a view of the west side of the fire. Everyone wanted to be assured that the fire wasn't closer than Griffith Park. Pretty soon, there was a single helicopter heading toward the smoke. Then we started smelling the smoke, which got thicker throughout the evening, letting up a bit around midnight (at which point Chicken Corner signed off for the evening). By 9 pm there was constant helicopter traffic over our house: every two or three minutes the water dumpers flew fast and low over our house on the way to the fire; they seemed to return along a river route.

A reader from Echo Park, Laura, emailed me a dramatic group of fire photos that she said she took at 10 pm with her boyfriend, at the intersection of Los Feliz Boulevard and the LA River.

Meanwhile, the fire is still blazing.


Carey McWilliams is the subject of a presentation by his most recent biographer at the Quarterly meeting of The Echo Park Historical Society (of which I am a board member).

Featured Presentation: Peter Richardson, author of "American Prophet: The Life and Work of Carey McWilliams," expands on McWilliams' legacy and contributions. McWilliams, a former Echo Park resident who lived at the top of a hill on Alvarado Street, was a one of the nation's most influential progressive thinkers whose writing and activism supported numerous liberal causes. Read more on McWilliams. The quarterly meeting, which will also include an update on EPHS events and issues of interest to members, is free and open to the public.
Meeting Date & Time: Thursday, May 10 at 7 PM. Location: Barlow Library at Barlow Hospital, 2000 Stadium Way.

May 8, 2007

Plant psycho

It's hot as blazes here in Echo Park today. I took my daughter to Echo Park Lake (a crazy, unreasonable acquiescence to her request), and as soon we got to the playground area told her we had to leave it: in five minutes, of course. There was only one patch of shade, lightly veiling one bench, and that bench was occupied by Val Kilmer's "office" (as the young man identified himself on the phone) and another Columbus Day subaltern, a young woman. They filled the bench with notebooks and phones. I waited for them to notice they were hogging the shade, but they didn't seem to. So, "Can you move over?" I said. Val's office complied. My daughter scorched her feet on the sand, as the young woman warned her she would, then came back for her shoes. Behind us on the little peninsula there was a lot of equipment and a lot of people staying very still, some of them standing, most sitting. It was like the south (east), where people don't move quickly on hot days. In L.A. people seem to move quickly, even in the heat. Not today. There was no buzz of activity, no walkie-talkie crackle, almost no sound in the background. A couple of vendors stood by, with pork rinds and snow cones, doing no business. The only work seemed to be happening right here at the play area as Val's assistant made plans for the actor after he wrapped up the hot day in Echo Park. Too hot to be curious about Val's evening. After a try at the hot slide, my daughter wanted me to push her on the swing, which made it time to go. On our way to the car, which was parked at an unusual distance from the play area, we saw the eight doves and a bunch of ducks. A mama mallard came to show us her two tiny ducklings. And a family of Canada geese came over for a look, too. Five goslings the size of grown ducks (the original ugly ducklings, gray and downy-scrappy looking), accompanied by two adults. Something set them off and the ducklings started running around on top of the water. A man sat very still next to a fishing pole.

Of course, when we got home, I could hear my plants screaming -- thin cries. A few of the wild, somewhat crazy ones were begging for fire. I didn't need a degree in psychobotany to decipher them. The decadent grasses were calm enough. She wouldn't let us die, I overheard one blade say to another, with a bit too much authority.

I started to worry about our water bill. And worry about fire. (I hadn't yet heard about the blaze in Griffith Park) I was surrounded by more and more plant voices, some of them in a language I'd never heard. Which is why I was stunned when I opened my email, and found a communication from our neighborhood's own Machine Project. It was all about plant human-communication -- or all about how you could attend an event about plant-human expression. Years ago, I read The Secret Life of Plants, and all I remember about it is that if you smash one of your plants with a baseball bat the others won't like you -- that and something about how your plants can contact you long-distance. I lived in New York at the time and didn't have any plants.

When I have the leisure for obsession, I am an obsessive gardener (never mind that it's one of those working-leisure activities redefined by baby-boom and post-baby-boom drone generations, as the New York Times Magazine put it on Sunday). I do a lot of pruning, so maybe I shouldn't investigate Machine's "Psychobotany: Revolutionary Breakthroughs in Human/Plant Communication, curated by Aaron Gach" -- would I want to hear the jade plants begging? Am I that kind of sadist? In any case, chances are I won't have time, even though I am quite curious.

Here's what Machine Project sent:

Dear Friends, Join us this Saturday May 12th from 7-10pm for the opening of Psychobotany: Revolutionary Breakthroughs in Human/Plant Communication, curated by Aaron Gach.
It is rumored that attendees may witness: - documentation of collaborations between plants, dancers, and synthesizers in the 70s; - a plant alerting its owner of underwatering via telephone; - plants responsive to touch; - newsreporting by the Plant Media Network; - a potion corner.

May 7, 2007

Good Question/LA River


Photo by Martin Cox, April 2007

The Martin Cox photo, above, was taken -- and sent to me -- in April in the midst of the extreme winds that blew over fences (i.e., one of mine), ripped away tree limbs and blew all kinds of leaves and detritus into Echo Park Lake, including this life ring, of which the above turtle is making such poetic use. This turtle, like the many hundreds of others in Echo Park Lake, will be facing the fates when the lake is drained for cleaning in a year or two. No more sunning on the banks of turtle island, at least for a while.

A staffer at the LA Times fretted about it in today's paper. The question they asked is: where will the turles go?

Not to mention the egrets (which have a nest this year at the park), the wild and domestic ducks. ... Not all of these creatures are cut out for the wild rushing of the LA River, even if they knew how to find it or got a ride.

But, speaking of the river, I went there, more or less, on Sunday. A family and friends visit to Taylor Yards, which is just getting started but already full of park-goers: soccer teams of all ages and both sexes; kids at the playground; general-use visitors; a couple of kite-flyers -- the winds were brisk. Many trees have been planted, but they're tiny saplings. I willed them to grow fast, but don't know if they were listening. From the open fields, a view of LA's oldest park from what may be its newest. I searched the horizon to the south and found the area in Elysian Park where most of dog-walking Echo Park meets -- in the middle of the green mountain belt, it appears, which is the far western edge of the park. The water tower is the landmark. From there I found the western trail that curves above the valley and the Golden State Freeway. I could see the black plastic sheeting that has been taped to the hillside to keep it in place since the heavy rains of a couple of years ago. Part of the trail was washed away down the precipitous decline. But now I'm wondering if it's time to remove the plastic.

We looked for an easy way to walk to the river's edge and didn't find it. Apparently, a communicating bridge or tunnel is intended but hasn't been built. In fact, much of the park feels brand brand new -- new native plants, new grave, new fences -- and pristine.

Again, speaking of the river, Jay Babcock, Arthur Magazine editor and publisher, is a truly fine river blogger. And an active Friend of the LA River.

May 3, 2007

Chicken at the corner

Photo: Two Chicks
By Cindy Bennett

We have new Cache chickens and other characters just over the border, in Silver Lake (Sunset Blvd. near Coronado). Also, the new-ish chickens (circa Valentine's Day is my guess) on Mohawk on the brick wall of The Kids Are Alright, a clothing and gifts boutique. Chix joyous but a bit schmaltzy, and we love them anyway.

Speaking of chix, meanwhile, a reader named Chuck was able to provide some more information -- though no address -- on the chicken of Whitmore:

I live right near the intersection of Whitmore and Allesandro and that chicken you mention seems to be the godfather of the neighborhood. I've lived here five months and still don't know who owns it. But [she] does just wander about quite contentedly, seemingly very pleased with herself.

And, speaking of chickens, I heard a rooster crowing in the middle of the day yesterday afternoon, while I sat at my dining room table, reading (good Echo Park rooster that he was he thought 2 pm was dawn). A couple of years ago, I wouldn't have noticed. But it's no longer a sound I take for granted.

Scorched earth/Council on teardowns

Scorched earth -- in seven places. You can find it in front of the Angelus Temple, on the public sidewalk. Fresh, bare dirt and orange cones (why the cones?) where there were huge ficus trees (seven of them), which had been planted in the 1970s and which provided shade and oxygen. The Foursquare Church's motivation in ripping them out? Maybe the church got frustrated because it wants to raze the apartments it owns and put in a parking structure and has been stalled in those efforts. So the trees had to go! Who knows really?

In fact, Chicken Corner did hear that the church purchased full-grown palms of some variety. Probably thought they would look groovier than ficus. But word is the church won't be able to plant those palms in front of the building because they broke the law in tearing out shade trees -- without a permit -- and so they will have to replace the trees they killed with specimens of urban-forestry-approved shade-and-oxygen-creating variety. Not palms.

Coming soon: saplings in front of Foursquare.


A constructive approach to demolitions: Tonight, the neighborhood council will hold a special meeting to consider the spate of teardowns in Echo Park and surrounding communities.

Stop the unpermitted deconstructivists who think they can act with impunity. Or at least consider the rules of engagement.

Planning and land use meeting: Thursday, May 3, 2007; Logan Street Elementary School, Auditorium, 6:30 PM; 1711 Montana St. (behind Walgreens), Los Angeles, CA 90026.

Speaking of scorched earth, the Downtown News editorializes on the LAUSD's big foot behavior with regard to communities. Story makes reference to the 9A situation in Echo Park, deploring the district's bully tactics.

May 2, 2007

One Night in EP*

Promo car

Echo Park crashes Silver Lake film festival with One Night With You, a film made by Joe D'Augustine -- guardian of Lucy the wolf dog and avid neighborhood historian. He's also my friend and neighbor and a man who likes pizza so much he built his own outdoor oven. Did I mention that Joe and his wife, Heather, grow their own shiraz grapes on an Echo Park hillside? I think I did. Emanuel Levy describes One Night With You as follows:

In this hip, offbeat flick, shot mainly in and around Echo Park, Jake Tarlow (Mark Boone Junior) is a down on his luck hustler who is trying to make enough dough to pay off his bookie. All he has to do is locate the reclusive and eccentric author Hunter Burnell, played with equal parts style, insanity and humor by Michael Parks, and bring him in to sign a deal for one of his books. Jake enlists the help of his friend Eddie (Jake La Botz,), who is completely obsessed with the Black Dahlia, to track him down. Then comes the problem of keeping him under control long enough to get him to the meeting, which quickly proves impossible. What follows is a hilarious wild goose chase through the streets of Los Angeles, with Jake and Eddie following a false trail to Hunter, who is busy having the time of his life with hookers, cocaine and bar fights. This film, a combination of film noir and physical comedy, is a fun romp through some of the Eastside's hot spots with a fantastic soundtrack featuring contributions from two Italian film music masters, Alessandro Alessandroni and Antonello Vannucchi.

I'd like to thank Joe -- who directed and wrote this film (and certainly claims other above-the-line credits as well) -- for not trying to steal any neighborhood parks while he made this film.

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